The Vanderbilt baseball team was on a six-game winning streak fresh off a road sweep at Georgia—once again ranking #1 in the nation. But out of this smooth voyage that was the 2015 season, a storm has popped up like on a Nashville summer day. Vandy has dropped midweek games in consecutive weeks to Lipscomb and Belmont. In between, they lost two-of-three to an Ole Miss team with a losing record blowing leads late in both losses.
Entering the always landmark series against South Carolina this weekend on the road, Vanderbilt has lost four of five standing at 28-11 overall, 11-4 in the SEC. But even though the last two weeks have soured the taste of the season a bit, Vandy is not in a bad place at all. In the division standings, Vanderbilt is in first a game ahead of Missouri. Overall in the conference, the Commodores are only ½-game behind current national #1 Texas A&M. It speaks to the level of achievement Vanderbilt has had for this kind of slump at midseason to be so alarming.
Offensively, Vanderbilt is led by perhaps the nation’s best player, Dansby Swanson. Swanson entered Tuesday’s Belmont game hitting .364, and he went two-for-four on Tuesday. Swanson and Rhett Wiseman are tied for the team-lead with seven home runs for a team that has already hit eight more than they did all of last season. Zander Wiel has six home runs, and leads the team with 37 runs batted in—the only major offensive category not led by Swanson.
On the pitching side, Friday night starter Carson Fulmer has been spectacular. Coming off a complete game two-hit shutout against Ole Miss in his last start, the prospective #1-overall pick in the June MLB Draft is 6-1. Walker Buehler, another prospective first-round pick, is 3-0 in seven starts and has pitched in some bad luck. The Sunday starter has fallen to freshman Jordan Sheffield who has been overpowering when he has known where the ball was going. His nearly a walk-per-inning average has been tough to watch at times. Midweek starts have mostly gone to John Kilichowski, who is 2-1, and freshman Kyle Wright who is 4-1.
The loss of Hayden Stone to Tommy John surgery last month would be devastating to most every other team in the country. It may yet be for Vanderbilt, though they have more arms still in the bullpen than most.
Philip Pfeifer has assumed the closer role and has five saves, but has notably blown two including giving up a game-tying grand slam against Ole Miss in a game eventually lost in 16 innings. These extra innings forced Corbin’s hand the following day with a short bullpen. Tyler Ferguson gave up the lead, taking the loss the following day to lose the series. Ferguson, seen as an ace at the start of the season, has completely lost his confidence having walked an astonishing 24 in 10.2 innings.
It is all still there for the Commodores. Remember, this team lost 13 SEC and 21 overall games a season ago. After South Carolina comes a home series with Missouri, a road trip to Kentucky, a showdown with Florida at home, and a visit to Alabama in conference play. It seems all Vanderbilt needs is some fine-tuning, difficult to get in the rugged SEC. But the schedule sets up nicely for another spring run. But a second wind is needed if the Commodores are to once again set sail for Omaha in June.